A Reformed Survey: Is sanctification monergistic or synergistic?

Thank you to everyone who participated in the voting. To bring everyone up to speed, we are debating the issue of sanctification. Is it monergistic (something God does without the cooperation of the individual) or is it synergistic (something God does in cooperation with the individual)?



Monergistic – 50%
Synergistic – 45.45%
I don’t know – 4.55%

Fascinating, huh? I had no idea how close the results were going to be. I think we can all come to an understanding of how sanctification is formed in us from some of the most prolific Reformed theologians to have walked the earth…

A. A. Hodge said,

“It must be remembered that while the subject is passive with respect to that divine act of grace whereby he is regenerated, after he is regenerated he cooperates with the Holy Ghost in the work of sanctification. The Holy Ghost gives the grace, and prompts and directs in its exercise, and the soul exercises it. Thus while sanctification is a grace, it is also a duty; and the soul is both bound and encouraged to use with diligence, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, all the means for its spiritual renovation, and to form those habits resisting evil and of right action in which sanctification so largely consists.”

In The Reformed Doctrine Of Predestination, Loraine Boettner writes this,

“many people confuse regeneration and sanctification. Regeneration is exclusively God’s work, and it is an act of His free grace in which He implants a new principle of spiritual life in the soul. It is performed by supernatural power and is complete in an instant. On the other hand, sanctification is a process through which the remains of sin in the outward life are gradually removed . . . It is a joint work of God and man”

To conclude, Jonathan Edwards writes,

“In efficacious grace we are not merely passive, nor yet does God do some and we do the rest. But God does all, and we do all. God produces all, we act all. For that is what he produces, viz. [namely] our own acts. God is the only proper author and fountain; we only are the proper actors. We are in different respects, wholly passive and wholly active.”

“We are wholly passive and wholly active”, Edwards writes. Like many doctrines in Christian theology, the middle road is the correct one. Like many doctrines in Christian theology there are beautiful paradoxes that we will never be able to understand until we pass on to glory, and even then I don’t know if we will. All that said, I think Edwards sums it up best when he says, we are “wholly passive and wholly active.”

“And you may depend upon this fact, that paradoxes are not strange things in Scripture, but are rather the rule than the exception.” – Charles Spurgeon

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  • Jason Garwood

    Jerry Bridges calls it “Dependent responsibility”.

    We are responsible, yet simultaneously dependent wholly upon God’s grace to grow. “Work out your own salvation… For it is GOD who works…”

    • Stephen McCaskell

      That’s a book I have yet to read! It’s sitting on my desk. You are talking about “The Pursuit of Holiness” right?

  • Steve, Winnipeg, Canada

    I’m a little surprised at the results. Hasn’t the Reformed consensus been Justification = Monergistic and Sanctification = Synergistic? Someone can correct me if I err.

    What would monergistic sanctification even look like? Would it be like Quietism? Or Keswick ‘let go and let God’ type stuff? ‘Higher Life Movement’? I am genuinely interested.

    • Stephen McCaskell

      I recall R.C. Sproul saying that the sanctification process is synergistic and it seems the Scriptures would also testify to this. Only regeneration is monergistic (solely the work of God). The Scripture itself testifies to a synergistic sanctification…

      “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at
      work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Phil 2:12b,13.

    • Stephen McCaskell

      I think us Reformed folk have a hard time believing God receives all the glory if sanctification is synergistic. Even though the glory is all his because we don’t deserve our sanctification which came about from our monergistic justification.

  • earl maier

    We lay our crowns (rewards) at His feet because we realize it was by His grace we were able to “earn” them. Synergistic because it is work we do by His grace.